Friday, July 31, 2015


I love this VERY cool chart from Writers Write of South Africa on ways to avoid "very."

Have a jubilant Friday!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It's That Time of Year Again...ABA Blawg 100

I started this blog in 2012 to share my love of legal writing with others and to offer tips about the topic that I've learned over my years of practice and clerking. I figured a few other people out there might be interested in legal writing, but I never could have imagined how my little blog would take off. It's truly been (and continues to be) a labor of love.

I cannot thank you enough for your past support, which has helped LLW earn a spot on the Blawg 100 list since 2013. If you continue to enjoy Lady (Legal) Writer, please take a couple of minutes to complete the Blawg 100 amici form here.

Forms are due August 16, 2015. The Blawg 100 list is released in the December issue of the ABA Journal.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Have you Synonymed?

This cute cartoon from Cuyler Black (@cuylerblack) caught my eye this week.
Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dear Lady (Legal) Writer: Tips for Success in Legal Writing Courses

Dear Lady (Legal) Writer,

I start my first year of law school in a few weeks. I feel confident that I can learn the material in most of my classes, but I’m not the best writer. I’m worried about doing well in my legal writing class. Do you have any tips?

Law School Rookie

Dear Rookie,

There's no formula for success in legal writing courses. Legal writing is difficult—it's a new way of thinking and writing that's foreign to everyone. So don't go in discouraged just because you don't think you're a good writer. Legal writing can trip up even the strongest writers. I'd suggest you follow these tips to maximize your chance of success in your legal writing classes.    

Minimize Class Absences

You may have coasted through undergrad attending only a few classes. That’s not going to work in law school. No matter the course, each class builds on the prior one, so if you miss even a single class, you’re going to be behind.

This is especially true with legal writing. Because of the vast amount of material that must be covered in legal writing courses, students often complain these courses move even faster than doctrinal courses. Law school is a full time (or more) job and you should treat it like one. Classes are important, so don’t miss them!  

Meet with the TA

If your professor has a teaching assistant, use that person as a resource. The TA has taken the course and done well in it, knows the professor’s teaching style, and can offer helpful hints and tips. Sometimes TAs offer supplemental workshops or lectures, and you should always take advantage of those, if at all possible. Depending on your school’s honor code, the TA may even be able to read drafts of your written assignments and offer feedback. Take advantage of the TA’s knowledge and experience.  

Take Advantage of Office Hours

Professors keep office hours for the benefit of students—use them! Many students never set foot in a professor’s office until after they’ve done poorly in a course. At that point, it’s too late. After receiving a bad grade, a student can learn from past mistakes, but the damage to the student’s grade point average is done. Students should take advantage of office hours during the semester.

But don’t come just for the sake of getting face time. Come with specific questions for the professor. Did you have trouble understanding something the professor said in class? Could you not read a comment your professor made on a written assignment? Did a study group member or classmate have a different understanding of an upcoming assignment than you? These are the types of questions you should bring to your professor during office hours.     

Review Written Feedback Carefully

Most legal writing courses are structured so that students receive written feedback throughout the semester—feedback that’s for their benefit. You likely won’t receive this type of feedback in any other course, so you should take advantage of it.  Few things are more frustrating to a legal writing professor than to have students ignore feedback the professor provides on a draft and to make the same errors on the final. Review written feedback carefully. Implement the changes your professor suggests. If you don’t understand something, ask in class or make an appointment to see the professor. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the written feedback. It’s the best source of information on how to improve your legal writing (and your grade)! 

Come to Conferences With Questions

Most legal writing courses include professor conferences, where students have an opportunity to meet with the professor after they receive written feedback on draft memos and briefs. Many students come to these conferences unprepared. Students are responsible for their own learning, and legal writing professors expect students to have reviewed written feedback before their conferences and to come prepared to ask specific questions. Here’s a helpful hint:
“What do I need to do to get an A?” is not
an appropriate or specific question.
Appropriate, specific questions include:

-This comment says my Question Presented needs to be more specific. How do I go about making it more specific? What types of specific facts should I include?

-You said I mixed up the Factual Background and Procedural Background. I guess I don’t really understand the difference.

-I lost points on my first draft because you said my Statement of Facts was too argumentative. What can I do to make the Statement of Facts less argumentative in my final memo?

-I’m not good at proofreading. Do you have any tips that will help me proofread better before I turn in my assignments?     

Take Your Legal Writing Courses Seriously
Many law students blow off legal writing courses in favor of doctrinal ones. Doing so is a mistake. Legal writing classes teach you the skills you need to succeed in every area of law. Legal writing professors teach students how to read cases, formulate rules, apply those rules to a set of facts, and predict the likely outcome. Why is this important? It's what you're going to be asked to do on your doctrinal exams and every day of your life in practice.
And unlike in years past, when legal writing courses were worth very few credit hours, they're now worth as many credit hours as doctrinal courses at most schools. So doing well in your legal writing courses is at least as important for your grade point average as doing well in doctrinal classes, and a strong legal writing grade can make up for an average one in a doctrinal course.  
Do you have dreams of serving on law review or moot court? At many schools, regardless of overall grade point average, students must have done well in their legal writing courses to be eligible for membership.   

So take your legal writing courses seriously, work hard, and you should be fine! 

Good luck!  -LLW

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New (and Improved) 1L: First Year Lawyering with Clients

The New 1L: First Year Lawyering with Clients, published by Carolina Academic Press, explores a novel concept in law teaching—the possibility of incorporating real legal work with real clients into the first-year curriculum.   

This book fascinated me, mostly because this idea has never crossed my mind, and I’ve never before heard anyone discuss incorporating this type of coursework into the 1L curriculum. But the authors have convinced me not only of the soundness of doing so but also that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

The New 1L is a primer on integrating client work into the first-year curriculum. The authors outline the many ways they and their schools have incorporated this type of work: through doctrinal courses, through legal writing courses, and through collaborations between already established clinics and doctrinal and legal writing courses.

And, of course, the authors offer loads of practical advice that professors and curriculum committees need to modify the curriculum or individual courses to include real-client work. They discuss how they find clients to work with, divide work amongst students, evaluate and provide feedback on student work, and address ethical considerations. Importantly, because the authors have instituted client work in the 1L curriculum in a variety of ways, The New 1L offers something for everyone, whether you’d just like to dip your toe in these uncharted (or barely charted) waters or are ready to dive in headfirst.   

What’s In It for Students?

The authors outline a number of benefits for students including:

-the opportunity to perform meaningful work and find the personal satisfaction that comes from helping a real person with real legal issues

-the ability to provide legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it

-the opportunity to address some of the ethical and moral issues that face practicing attorneys

-the chance to confront the messiness and uncertainty of law practice

According to the authors, these benefits square with law schools’ “new normal”—the need to increase clinical experiences and the expectation that law schools will produce “practice-ready” graduates.

The authors—from different law schools across the country—agree that students take their assignments in courses with real clients more seriously because they know that their actions have real consequences. Further, according to the authors, students’ legal analyses are stronger and more thoughtful and their arguments better developed and more persuasive than those produced by students working on canned legal assignments.

By introducing real client work right at the beginning of their legal education and integrating the teaching of doctrine, lawyering skills, legal research and writing, and professional responsibility with ongoing clinic cases…students are able to make connections between their learning in these courses with future client work.
-The New 1L

What’s In It for Me?

Perhaps my favorite section of The New 1L is “Impacts on Faculty.” Many of us are pressed for time as is, and developing a curriculum that includes client cases in the first year seems extraordinarily challenging, if not impossible. The difficulty in pushing a curriculum change through. The need for flexibility within the semester. The possibility that legal research won't reveal any authority on the client's legal issue. Why would anyone voluntarily undertake such a gargantuan task?

The authors offer numerous benefits for faculty beyond the institutional need to produce practice-ready graduates. According to the authors, incorporating client work into the first-year curriculum:

-energizes faculty and makes teaching more fun

-gives the opportunity for legal writing, clinical, and doctrinal faculty to work together and learn what other professors do

-results in the opportunity for faculty scholarship

-produces a pool of trained students who can serve as TAs or research assistants after the course has concluded

The most important parts of this book, I think, are those in which the authors explain how they negotiated the political processes in their institutions to get support for the programs. One school built a first-year experiential learning program from the ground up, while the rest incorporated client work into pre-existing first-year curriculum. The authors have dealt with numerous, varied objections to changing the first-year curriculum to include client work and offer suggestions for navigating institutional minefields to garner support from deans, doctrinal professors, and clinicians alike.     

The New 1L is a quick read that is chock full of valuable information and inspiration for those interested in improving 1L curriculum through the addition of real client work. As I said, I’m inspired by this book and think others will be as well. In the face of changing legal education, I think (and hope) the ideas offered in The New 1L become the standard and get students—from the beginning—participating in and thinking about the types of work they’ll actually be doing in practice.   

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

LLW on Hiatus

I'm taking a break this week from posting while I'm working on another project.

I'll be back next week with new content!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Photo courtesy of
Just in time for the July 4th holiday, the Eleventh Circuit has given us some wise words from American literary hero Mark Twain (a/k/a Samuel Clemens), who makes not one but two appearances in United States v. Rosales-Bruno. The case concerns application of the federal sentencing guidelines to a defendant who was convicted of illegally reentering the country.

Despite base sentencing guidelines of between 0 and 6 months, the trial court deviated from the guidelines and handed down an 87-month sentence. The dissent argues that the district courts in the Eleventh Circuit have become increasingly likely to deviate upward from the guidelines under the belief that the Eleventh Circuit will affirm upward deviations but carefully scrutinize downward deviations. 

In his opinion, Judge Carnes analyzes the data and concludes that, in recent years, the district courts actually have imposed 11 times more downward deviations than upward deviations. In dismissing the dissent's concerns, Judge Carnes quotes Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: "How empty is theory in presence of fact!"  

According to the dissenting Judge Wilson, however, Judge Carnes' data might not prove what Judge Carnes believes it proves. Judge Wilson notes that accurate data can be manipulated and quotes Twain, who once said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Happy Friday and Happy 4th of July!